An Insider’s Guide to a Safari in Murchison National Park

Whenever one thinks of Uganda, the first thing that comes to mind are the mountain gorillas. Whereas gorilla safaris draw most tourists, Uganda is also excellent for general wildlife safaris. The Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda’s true gems. The park was established in 1952 as the largest national park in the country, covering an area of 1503 square miles. A key attraction in the park are the Murchison Falls. Now, you might have known the falls as Kabalega Falls, especially during the 70s, but that was long after Sir Samuel Baker had baptized the falls with the name Murchison.

The Murchison Falls are formed when the river Nile squeezes itself through a narrow gorge before dropping in a thunderous roar. The resultant spillage of water is awesome and is what makes Murchison National park a distinct attraction in Uganda. Interestingly, the park is just part of the wider Murchison Falls Conservation area. The area also comprises of the Bugungu and Karuma Falls Wildlife Reserves. The wider Murchison Falls Conservation area also consists of forests like Budongo, Rabango and Kaniyo Pabidi. These forests, wetlands and open plains make perfect grounds for wildlife to flourish.

Speaking of Wildlife, you must be reading this article because you are planning to visit Murchison falls National park on a safari. The forests in the park are home to various species of primates, including blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, chimpanzees and baboons. The Murchison Falls Conservation Area is home to the highest number of Roskilde Giraffes and Crocodiles in the country. The park is a lion conservation unit and in total has 76 species of mammals and over 445 of birds.

On a sad note, the park has suffered some dark times over the years. This darkness was mainly because of uncontrolled poaching and the armed conflict led by Joseph Kony in the 90s. Tourists were discouraged from setting foot in the park at the time but fortunately today, the wars are long gone and rampant poaching has been contained.

Accessing the park

There are several ways to access the Murchison falls national, especially because it is surrounded by a number of districts. These districts include Kiryandongo, Masindi, Nwoya and Buliisa. For travelers arriving from Kampala, the best route is through Masindi town. It takes you about 4 to 5 hours to reach Masindi town from Kampala. To avoid inconveniences along the journey, it is advisable that you use or hire a private vehicle. This will help you manage your travel time without having to depend on unpredictable public buses.

From Masindi, you continue all the way to Paraa, where you can use a private van or one of the standard tourist vehicles from local operators.  To access the park, international tourists need to pay a fee of $40.

In the event that you cannot endure the long journey by road, there is always an option of accessing the park using a chartered flight from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi airfield. With this mode of transport, you will land at the northern bank of the park at Pakuba airstrip or better still, at Bugungu.

Activities in the Murchison Falls National Park

As you set off for a fun-filled trip to the Murchison Falls National Park, the talk in the car is always about what activity will be more thrilling than the other. There is a lot to see in the various corners of the park, but there is a specific set of must-do activities as discussed below;

A hike to the top of the falls: Think about hitting the road to go to Murchison Falls National Park, and the first activity on your mind will undoubtedly be an up-close view of the Murchison falls. The falls are the face of the park. Apart from the natural beauty, what keeps many travelers amazed while at the falls is the power with which the waters force their way through the narrow gorge.

This force causes a powerful outburst of white waters hence creating rainbow-covered mist. You don’t want to miss these awesome views from atop the falls. These beautiful views can also be seen if you approach the bottom of the falls with a boat.

Boat cruise along the river Nile: This boat cruise starts at the calmer waters after the waterfalls. For about three hours, the boat takes you to see many of the famous creatures of the park. You are sure to catch sight of a group of hippos and crocodiles lazing along the banks of the river. There is also a high chance that you will spot an elephant or two, as they disappear into the thick vegetation along the river banks. Have no music on the boat? Well, do not worry because there is a plethora of different bird species communicating with all kinds of sound.

Game drive around the park: Ever been at Murchison National park and did not do a game drive? Well, you might as well count yourself one of those who have not stepped foot in the park at all. Along with viewing the magnificent falls, game drives are the top attractions in the Murchison Falls National Park. Game drives usually kick off early in the morning with the guidance of a park ranger. With a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger on board, all you have to do is keep your ears alert and eyes wide open as you observe the savannah grasslands through the window of the tour van. Within the 3 hours of the drive, you will be able to catch sight of Warthogs, Buffaloes, Leopards, Hippos, Giraffes, Lions and Elephants. With keen eyes, a monitor lizard will not go unnoticed, plus other animals, most of which would require the guidance of a ranger to know their names.

Another family of mammals worth looking out for are those in the antelope family including the famous Uganda Kob. Uganda Kobs are all over the place and it is hard not to spot them. The Uganda Kob may be confused with the Hartebeest, but with the guidance of the ranger, you will be able to tell the difference. Other members of the antelope family include the Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuch and Bohor Reedbuck among others. The rangers move with spotlights so that any action is not missed.  The night game drives start late in the evening or when it gets dark.

Birdwatching: Speaking about birding, Murchison falls national park has some of the most fascinating species of birds. This makes it one of the perfect destinations for birding in Africa. The entire park is full of birds. You can go birding from anywhere to look out for Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, African Quail-Finch, African Darter, African Skimmer, African Jacana, African Fish Eagle, Beautiful Sunbird, Bar-breasted Fire finch, Black Crake, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Bluff-bellied Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver, Black-lored Babbler, Blue-naped Moosebird, Black-headed Gonolek, Blue-headed Coucal, Black-headed Batis, Black-headed Plover, Black-faced Waxbill, Black-headed Gondola, Black Scimitarbill, Black-billed Wood-Dove and Black-billed Barbet among others.

A trip to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary: You might have noticed by now that Rhinos do not appear anywhere among the wildlife mentioned so far. Well, that is because they belong to a separate home of their own known as the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This is because Rhinos were made extinct in national parks due to poaching – especially during the regime of Idi Amin. A decision was made to take the few remaining individuals at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

However, the sanctuary is located very close to the Murchison Falls National park. Travelers can easily visit the place on their way to or from the park. Visiting the sanctuary and paying the entrance fee is one way of contributing to the conservation of these endangered mammals.

Hot Air Ballooning: You have probably watched this in the movies, and were left amazed by the fun in it. Away from the movies, Hot air ballooning can be enjoyed in Uganda as well, and more interestingly, it can only be found at the Murchison Falls National Park.

While game drives are great, the Hot Air balloon experience can be even more rewarding for wildlife viewing. With an aerial view, travelers are able to observe everything great about the park. Things that may not be possible to see while on the ground.  The activity is managed by a professional Hot Air balloon company, Dream Balloons, with licensing and supervision from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.

Accommodation in Murchison Falls National Park

After a busy day in the park, it is time to sit back, relax and feel rejuvenated. But to achieve this, you will need comfortable accommodation. As always is the case, your budget will determine how far you go in terms of achieving your desired comfort.

Nile Safari Lodge: This is the kind of hotel that luxury travelers look out for when they think of a safari in Uganda. Overlooking the Nile and surrounded by papyrus, Nile Safari Lodge offers guests a great experience. The luxury lodge comes with self-contained cottages, tents and a swimming to cool off after a long time in the savannah.

Paraa Safari Lodge: One of the most popular hotels in the park, Paraa Safari Lodge never disappoints when it comes to comfort. It is also special because it is the oldest lodge in the area. Its strategic location allows travelers to easily explore the park and enjoy some of the best sceneries while in Uganda. The lodge has a giant swimming pool, bar and a wellness center. Thinking of travelling in large numbers or as a family?

Sambiya River Lodge: This is a relatively affordable lodge with 26 self-contained cottages. The lodge is popular because of its location inside Murchison National Park. Waking up to the beautiful views and the sound of the river Sambiya flowing just next to you should lure you into visiting the lodge. All in all, Sambiya promises comfort and on budget.

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